Know your Worth

How do you know if you are being fairly compensated as a massage therapist?

KnowYourWorthIn a recent conversation with a respected older relative, he made mention of what I thought was an astonishingly low price that he paid to receive a massage.  I thought that the therapist was undercharging and stated that the level of work was not worth the reward.  He mentioned that the therapist had a room set up in her home so had little overhead.  He further recalled that when he was a much younger man he did strenuous labor for a lesser rate of compensation.   That got me thinking about the fair market value of our labor as massage therapists.

While a manual laborer may perform a more physical task than we do, this is not a fair comparison. In fact, there are many people who do a lot less physical work who make a lot more than we do. It is up to us to remember that we are massage professionals, many of us are licensed through the Department of Health of our respective states.  Most of us have attended (and paid for) at least several hundred hours of schooling and have taken certifications to prove our skills.  We maintain our professional licenses, occupational licenses and professional insurance.  We attend continuing education seminars, purchase and maintain tools for our trade and perhaps are members of professional associations.  It takes time, effort and energy to market our services, travel to our appointments, prepare our work environments for our clients and continue to upgrade our skills so that we can better serve our clients. All of this has a cost as well as an opportunity cost, so it is important that we, as a profession, hold ourselves out as skilled allied health professionals and collectively demand to earn a good quality of living for ourselves and our families.

The dollar value of our services, according to, (May 2010) indicates that the average annual salary of a massage therapist can range from just under $30,000 to just over $60,000.   This variance in pay scale can be explained by levels of skill and experience of therapists, actual hours worked, geographic areas, levels of competition and types of markets being addressed.   The exception to this scale is the self-employed therapist whose earning potential is substantially greater.  This is so whether the therapist is providing massage for a career or just a sideline.

A key to high monetary compensation in the massage industry is to work for yourself.  While a massage therapist working at a day spa may earn from $13 to $35+ per service, a therapist with a private clientele may easily charge $60, $75 or more per service.  A medical massage practitioner has the potential to bill an insurance company upwards of $160 per hour.  Someone good at marketing massage services can choose the clients they like to work with and then contract out work to other therapists, thereby earning money from massage without putting a hand on the client.  Corporate accounts can put quite a bit of money into your pocket.  Of course, working for yourself and running your own business does take effort and a special kind of know-how, but they are proportionately more profitable.  The question then is what is a comfortable income for you?

It is important to keep in mind that compensation is more than an hourly rate.  Working in a beautiful facility with flexible hours and co-workers that you enjoy is definitely a plus.  When an employer keeps a regular flow of clients coming to you, handles the overhead of rent, electric, insurance, laundry, provides oils and perhaps other benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation and a holiday party, then you are receiving compensation.   Quality of life most certainly counts as part of the total equation.

For a less-experienced therapist (remember – the first 1,000 bodies are practice), working for a lower rate of pay may provide for an opportunity to really hone palpatory skills.  It may be worth the effort for the knowledge that you can gain, much like a paid internship.  As skill levels increase, and as preventative wellness becomes more in vogue, many therapists will want to steer their careers toward the more lucrative markets that offer a higher level of respect for the services provided.   It will be interesting to see how strong of a role our profession will play as complimentary health care providers as policies and regulations progress.

Whether you are a serial entrepreneur or just want to make your massage practice more than a hobby, it is up to you to make sure that you are fairly compensated for your skills.  Otherwise you will burn out and not provide the best service.  You have put a lot of time and effort into developing your skills.  There is much more involved in providing a massage than the service itself.  Make sure that you are not undervaluing yourself.  The more skillful you are and the better you are able to communicate your expertise, the more self-confident you become which will enable you to build the practice that is right for you.  “Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.”